Google is looking to make a return to China with a heavily-censored search engine, a report has revealed.
Published in The Intercept, the story says Google has been working on ‘Project Dragonfly’ since last year and that Google CEO Sundar Pichai met with a top Chinese government official in December.
It alleges that search terms like ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’, ‘religion’ and ‘peaceful protest’ will be blocked in the Chinese version.
“The app has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government; the finalised version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Chinese officials,” states the report.
The proposed model would signal a remarkable return to the heavily-regulated Chinese internet market for Google, which quit local operations in 2010 to protest censorship.
The ‘Great Firewall’ currently bans or partially blocks more than 8,000 domain names including Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo Taiwan, Chinese Wikipedia, Instagram, Blogspot, Dropbox, Vimeo and BBC.
It also blocks content on free speech, political opponents, anti-communism and all mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
And despite Beijing having a clear stance on the role of the internet and free speech, a number of popular sites have tried their hand at launching censored versions recently in a woo to tap into the gigantic Chinese market.
LinkedIn currently offers a regulated Chinese version, while Facebook has also developed software with the hope of potentially launching in China.
A Google spokesperson issued a statement to The New York Times on the matter.
“We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, to help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com…But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”
However, Reuters reported that a Google employee confirmed the project was alive and “as bad as the leak article mentions.”
China Researcher at Amnesty International, Patrick Poon, issued a statement on Google’s alleged plans.
“It will be a dark day for internet freedom if Google has acquiesced to China’s extreme censorship rules to gain market access. It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘Do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course,” he said.
“For the world’s biggest search engine to adopt such extreme measures would be a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom. In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.
“This also raises serious questions as to what safeguards Google is putting in place to protect users’ privacy. Would Google roll over and hand over personal data should the Chinese authorities request it?”